Monthly Archives: March 2013

The Next War to End

One of the interesting aspects of the decline of armed conflict in recent decades is the geographical shrinkage in the area of the world affected by actual shooting wars in progress. This pattern continues with the most recent war to end, in the Philippines, at the far eastern end of the zone of conflict stretching from west and central Africa to south Asia.

Kachin soldiers Jan 20 2013 AFPThe war likely to end next is Burma [Myanmar]. The government there has taken substantial steps toward democracy after decades of authoritarian military rule (including massacres of protesters more than once). Around Burma’s borders are ethnic groups who carried on armed conflict with the government. All the major groups have now reached cease-fires except one, the Kachin in the north next to China. Their war had been suspended for 17 years under an earlier cease-fire that broke down in 2011. (Note: peacekeepers help maintain cease-fires, but the Kachin conflict had none.) A recent government offensive greatly weakened the Kachin position, and now the sides seem close to reaching a cease-fire, according to a report from last week’s negotiations. The next round of talks are to take place before April 10. Both China and the United States would like Burma’s wars to end comprehensively; China could send refugees home, and would gain economically from Burma’s development, and the United States wants a successful transition to democracy there. In the past month, only “sporadic” clashes have taken place, and if a cease-fire agreement is reached I will take Burma off my list of wars in progress.

I had thought the next war to end would be far west of the arc of conflict, the last real outlier geographically — Colombia. It is the last war in the western hemisphere, the last remnant from a bygone era when most of Latin America was up in flames with leftist armed insurgencies, rightist militias, and great-power meddling. What remains today, in Colombia, is a weak guerrilla force sustained by cocaine revenues and losing its recent battles with the government. Peace talks are underway, and one of these months Colombia might reach a cease-fire. Until then, they fight while they talk.

The East Asian peace has been noted as a key component of the world’s overall pattern of declining violence.  The end of wars in the Philippines and (potentially) Burma would extend that peace southwest, with favorable implications for ending the little war in southern Thailand.  (Then, on to India, where small-scale Maoist insurgencies continue.)

Wars begin with a bang and end with a whimper, at least the media attention paid to them does. Cease-fire agreements that could end longstanding wars in places like the Philippines, Burma, and Colombia may seem like small potatoes compared with the outbreak of a new war. But the shrinkage of the world’s zone of war is a big deal, expanding whole regions of the world where a new norm of not fighting active wars is gaining traction.